Anita Hil: one year later

November 18, 1992

When Anita Hill appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year to accuse then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, polls showed most Americans found her charges little short of incredible. Justice Thomas ultimately was confirmed largely on the strength of that skepticism.

Yet what a difference a year makes. Polls now show that a majority of Americans believe Ms. Hill was indeed telling the truth. The past several months have seen an 180-degree evolution in the public perception of sexual harassment.

Ms. Hill's story showed, to the widest possible audience, how ugly and demeaning such harassment was for women forced to choose between losing their self-respect or their jobs.

tTC Now, however, there is some concern that the pendulum may be swinging too far in the other direction. In a number of recent cases involving sexual harassment charges around the country, male supervisors or co-workers have been forced to resign or forgo high-level appointments on the mere allegation of such misbehavior.

First Amendment activists have sounded the alarm over what they see as an uncritical willingness to give credence to sexual harassment charges. Such a trend, they fear, reverses the presumption of innocence that protects people accused of crimes until they are proven guilty.

Moreover, charges of sexual harassment invariably stigmatize the accused and damage his reputation even if the charges ultimately turn out to be unfounded. Judge Thomas himself is an example of this: Whatever history's verdict on his performance as a jurist, he almost certainly will bear the scars of his bruising confirmation battle to the end of his days.

Clearly there must be a balance between "boys will be boys" toleration and the naive credulity that regards every allegation as tantamount to a guilty verdict. The problem is compounded by workplace gender roles and norms that are still evolving and that leave plenty of room for uncertainty on both sides as to what is acceptable.

Still, sexual harassment remains a serious problem in the workplace. Anita Hill brought it out into the open in a way that allowed women to give voice to long-suppressed fears and frustrations. For that the nation owes her thanks. But her experience was only the tip of the iceberg. The problem won't be solved so long as any woman anywhere has to put up with what Ms. Hill endured.

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